Auburn missed 14 of its 19 shots from 3-point range but repeatedly beat Tennessee to the long rebounds. As a result, the undersized Tigers – only one starter is taller than 6-5 – outrebounded the Big Orange 34-21 overall and 14-4 on the offensive glass.
"When you are smaller and you are quicker, you've got a better chance to get to those 50/50 balls ... and they (Tigers) did," Tennessee's Bruce Pearl said on his post-game show.
The Vol coach was not quite so philosophical about the fact Auburn converted those 14 offensive rebounds into 19 second-chance points, 17 more than Tennessee managed.
"Nineteen to two second-chance points ... end of story," Pearl grumbled. "End of story."
In spite of its huge height disadvantage, Auburn dominated on the inside. Six-foot-5 Rasheem Barrett hit 12 of 19 shots – most from the lane – and finished with 27 points. Korvotney Barber, the Tigers' tallest starter at 6-feet-7, hit 8 of 8 from the floor and added 21.
"I'm disappointed in our front line to allow Barrett and Barber to go off like they did," Pearl said. "We did not take advantage of (superior size) either offensively or defensively."
The Vols appeared to have the game in hand with 16 seconds left. Leading 77-76, they watched as Auburn's Lucas Hargrove missed both ends of a two-shot foul. But Tennessee failed to box out on the rebound, which was claimed by Barrett.
After an Auburn timeout, Chism raced across mid-court trying to intercept a long inbounds pass to Barber. Lunging to tip the ball, Chism fell in the process. That left the Vols with no one covering Barber, who made a wide-open layup with four seconds left. Tennessee's last chance expired when Prince missed a jump shot at the buzzer.
"This is probably as disappointing a loss as we've had this year," Pearl said. "This is the first loss to a team that's not a lock for the NCAA Tournament.... The second reason is, obviously, we had the game in hand. The third reason is the only way Auburn could beat us is with that level of passion and intensity."
Tennessee lost despite shooting 59.2 percent (29 of 49) from the floor. The Vols hit 39.1 percent (9 of 23) from beyond the arc and a sizzling 76.9 percent (20 of 26) inside it. They recorded 18 assists and committed just 11 turnovers.
"When you shoot 59 percent, score 77 points and you have 18 assists with only 11 turnovers, you should win the basketball game," Pearl noted.
While the Vols were terrific offensively, they were terrible defensively. Auburn shot 60 percent (12 of 20) in the second half and 53.7 percent (29 of 54) for the game. Barber and Barrett combined to sink 20 of 27 shots.
Pearl bemoaned the Vols' "inability to move our feet and keep guys in front of us," adding: "They just drove it right around us. When they came out and scored on 10 of their first 13 possessions ... that was just ridiculous."